Tomoki Hiwatashi

AP

Event preview, how to watch Four Continents Figure Skating Championships

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The figure skating season continues for Bradie Tennell, Mariah Bell, Jason Brown, Vincent Zhou, and the formidable group of U.S. ice dancers at the Four Continents Championships this weekend in Anaheim, Calif.

The competition returns to the United States for the first time in seven years; Colorado Springs hosted in 2006, 2007, and 2012.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Anaheim from competition. The action begins Thursday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have live coverage of senior competition throughout the weekend.

Four Continents includes skaters from essentially everywhere but Europe, and is the final major tune-up event prior to March’s world championships.

Let’s take a closer look at each discipline in Anaheim:

ENTRIES: Ladies | Men | Pairs | Dance

Ladies

It’s entirely possible that Japan sweeps the ladies’ podium in Anaheim. Rika Kihira (the triple Axel-ing Grand Prix Final champion), Mai Mihara (gold and silver medalist the past two years at Four Continents), and Kaori Sakamoto (last year’s Four Continents champion and 2018 Olympian) will skate at Four Continents.

The American skaters include Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell who finished with silver and bronze medals at nationals last month, respectively, plus Ting Cui, who finished fourth. Alysa Liu won nationals but is not age-eligible to compete at senior level international events, such as Four Continents or the world championships.

Men

Japan’s Shoma Uno boasts the most impressive resume in the men’s field. The Olympic and two-time Worlds silver medalist is joined by countrymen Keiji Tanaka and Kazuki Tomono in Japan. Uno will likely have to be clean to win, however.

China’s Boyang Jin, who has struggled internationally this season but finished fourth in PyeongChang, is also in the field.

Other notable men include South Korea’s Junhwah Cha who won bronze medals at both of his Grand Prix assignments this fall — plus a bronze in the Final — and Grand Prix Final qualifier Keegan Messing from Canada.

They’ll face a strong American contingent made up of Jason Brown, Vincent Zhou, and Tomoki Hiwatashi: the second, third and fourth place finishers from the national championships in January. The three-time U.S. champion, Nathan Chenwon’t compete in Anaheim but is expected at the upcoming world championships.

Pairs

The highly anticipated international season debut for Sui Wenjing and Han Cong highlights the pairs field. The PyeongChang silver medalists and 2017 world champions missed the fall Grand Prix Series as Sui recovered from a stress fracture in her foot.

Sui and Han’s teammates Peng Cheng and Jin Yang will also be in the hunt for the podium, as well as Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.

An American team could sneak onto the podium as well. Newly-crowned national champions Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc lead the charge, alongside national silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and fourth-place finishers Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea.

Kayne and O’Shea won the event last year, and were joined on the podium by Cain and LeDuc who earned silver.

Ice dance

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have won everything they’ve entered this season: Skate America, Skate Canada, the Grand Prix Final, and the U.S. Championships. They could lead a U.S. dance podium sweep alongside their Montreal-based training mates Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who finished second and third at nationals.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, however, look to split up the Americans. They only competed once this season, winning the B-level Autumn Classic, and instead toured in shows throughout the fall. They won Four Continents in 2015.

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Four Continents Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern): 

Thursday

3:30 p.m.: Ladies’ short program (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at 5 p.m.

9:15 p.m.: Men’s short program (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at 11:30 p.m.

Friday 

2:45 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (GOLD STREAM LINK)

6 p.m.: Rhythm dance (GOLD STREAM LINK)

10 p.m.: Ladies’ free skate (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at midnight

Saturday 

5 p.m.: Pairs’ free skate (GOLD STREAM LINK)

10 p.m.: Men’s free skate (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at 11 p.m.

Sunday 

4 p.m.: Free dance (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at midnight

Beyond the big three, are there any other U.S. figure skating stars?

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U.S. men’s skating is in good hands with Nathan Chen, Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou. Chen dominated Saturday’s short program at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan, earning a whopping 113.42 points. Brown and Zhou, just a few tenths of a point apart, sit more than 16 points ahead of the field.

Included in that field are a group of up-and-comers that have world and Olympic assignments in their sights – if they up their technical ante and mature their skating skills. This group isn’t yet competing with the likes of Chen, Brown and Zhou. They’re competing with each other.

“(The top three) have always been there, ever since I was juvenile,” Tomoki Hiwatashi, the 2016 U.S. junior champion who sat fourth after the short program in Detroit, said. “When I got first (place) in juvenile, Vincent got first in intermediate. Jason was already junior or senior, Nathan was novice first place.”

“They have always been ahead of me – more than a step or two, like 100 steps,” the 19-year-old added. “I’m just taking longer. I don’t think I should try too hard to catch up. Right now, I should let it go with the flow and catch up whenever I can.”

Hiwatashi, along with Alex Krasnozhon, Camden Pulkinen and Andrew Torgashev, have had the best U.S. results in international junior competition the last few seasons – except for Chen and Zhou, of course.

Tim Goebel, the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist and one of the first men to execute multiple quadruple jumps in his programs, thinks the quartet must continue to make their mark internationally before they can even think of challenging for medals at future U.S. Championships.

“For a lot of these guys on the threshold of making it, the senior ‘B’s (including Challenger Series events) are really important,” Goebel said. “Winning a medal at junior worlds this year would be great.”

“I think they all just need to figure out what are the quick wins and what are the big picture (elements)?” he added. “What can they improve between now and junior worlds, or a spring international? What is their two-year plan? You have to do the quads. You also have to do everything else, choreography, other jumps, spins. You have to be excellent at everything.”

MORE: Goebel inducted to Hall of Fame

For Hiwatashi, who trains in Colorado Springs under Christy Krall and Damon Allen, consistency is the challenge. He won bronze at the 2016 World Junior Figure Skating Championships and qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, but placed sixth after popping his triple Axel in the short program.

“When I was young I got every jump every time, easy,” he said. “When I came up to junior, it became harder for me to skate consistent. I feel like it’s mental. I’ve grown up, I’ve gotten more mature but I’ve also gotten more sensitive about what others say, how others look at me.”

The skater thinks he may have overthought things at the Junior Grand Prix Final. So in Detroit, he played it close to the vest, holing up in his hotel room and listening to anime music.

“Before the Junior Grand Prix Final, I was trying to get my mind ready and get everything in the right place,” Hiwatashi said. “I feel like that kind of made it worse for me. Now I’m just going in, skating and sleeping.”

Krasnozhon, who succeeded Hiwatoshi as U.S. junior champion and won the 2017 Junior Grand Prix Final, had a solid short in Detroit and sits fifth going into Sunday’s free skate. The 18-year-old, who trains in Plano, Texas under Aleksey Letov and Olga Ganicheva, is playing it conservative. He didn’t try his quad toe in the short and may not include it in his free skate.

“Right now the goal is placement, to make some kind of U.S. team, maybe Four Continents,” Krasnozhon said. “It’s not about landing more quads, it’s about doing the rest of the program clean, too. A quad may be worth only about 10 points and if you want to be competitive in the long program you need 80 or 90 technical points. So (you have to) focus on the big picture, do the triple Axels and all the triples well.”

Krasnozhon’s progress has been slowed by injuries. He won the short program at the 2018 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, but withdrew from the free skate after spraining three ligaments in his right ankle while attempting a quad Salchow. Soon after, he made a coaching change, moving to Letov and Ganicheva because, he said, they force him to be disciplined.

“I’m not the easiest athlete to work with,” he said. “I was with my other coaches (Darlene and Peter Cain) so long. It was hard, because I would take everything personally. Aleksey is able to keep me in a box, where I don’t get to say ‘no.’ He tells me what to do and where I’m headed.”

The skater landed quad toes and Salchows in practice in Detroit, and knows he will have to add them to both his short program and free skate eventually.

MORE: Jason Brown planning quad in Sunday’s free skate

“The biggest thing is, once you get one, you are set up for the others,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting the right quad. I was working on loop, then the Salchow got closer, and this year the toe happened. Finding that first quad and landing it clean and getting used to the rotations helps you with the others.”

Like Hiwatashi, Pulkinen and Torgashev train at Colorado Springs’ World Arena. Pulkinen, the 2018 U.S. champion who made his U.S. senior debut in Detroit, loves the intensely competitive environment.

“There is no day that’s easy, you’re always going to have someone who is going to lay it down,” the 18-year-old, who placed fifth at December’s Junior Grand Prix Final, said. “If you are not the one, then Vincent, Andrew, Timoki is going to lay it down. You never get a time to say, ‘I’ll take a breather at the boards.’”

Thus far, Pulkinen has been known more for his artistry and musical interpretation than for his quadruple jumps. He’s working with coaches Tom Zakrajsek and Tammy Gambill to add quads to his repertoire next season.

“I have a lot of goals,” he said. “I would love to go to Junior Worlds and medal, maybe win. I want a Grand Prix assignment (next season). I need better spins, improved choreography, so many things.”

At 17, Torgashev made his first mark in the junior ranks before the others. His impressive skating skills led him to the 2015 U.S. junior title, but in June 2015 he fractured his right ankle while practicing a quad toe loop.

Torgashev qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, but a fractured right toe forced him to withdraw. He spent eight weeks off of the ice, some of it in a walking boot, before resuming training around mid-November.

“I didn’t want to repeat mistakes of the past and let ego get in the way,” said Torgashev, who believes overtraining contributed to his 2015 ankle fracture.

“I’ve matured as a person, as a skater,” he added. “The best choice for my body and career was to sit that one out and let myself fully heal.”

Torgashev, who moved to Colorado Springs at the end of last season, has landed quad toes in competition. The challenge has been landing his triple Axel and quad in the same program.

“I’ve been working a lot on it, and Christy (Krall) has been working a lot with me to make sure I get the Axel and toe back-to-back,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot of work. I can do it, now it’s time to show people I can.”

MORE: Nathan Chen landing on his feet after turning life upside down

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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